Luke Cage

My partner and I started watching Luke Cage this week and, like all Netflix/Marvel collaboration, I am really enjoying it. It is well written, the effects are well done, and the acting is phenomenal. But, there is something about it that is lurking in the back of my  mind. I am a white person and the show is clearly focused on black culture, specifically in Harlem, and that makes me a little uncomfortable.

I’m not uncomfortable with exploring other cultures, but there is a history in the US of white people getting rich off of black culture or reducing it to stereotypes. I wonder if that is happening here. I don’t think it is, but that feeling in the back of my head exists because I will never know what it is really like to be black. I can continue to read W.E.B. duBois, Malcolm X, bell hooks, Octavia Butler, and Booker T. Washington to try and understand, but I will always be outside the window peering in.

Actually, no, not even that. I’m sitting in a house three blocks away with a telescope looking in and trying to understand. I will get a clearer picture with time and better equipment, but I’ll never truly understand that culture that I’m observing. I think that is okay, though, I’ll never understand what it is like to be a white male from Appalachia, a women (despite reading Hillbilly Elegy and The Feminine Mystique).  I’ll never fully understand, but I can take the time to learn about other cultures in order to become a better, more loving and accepting person, which naturally makes me view popular renditions of other cultures more skeptically. Is what I’m watching accurate or is it exploitative?

With Luke Cage, I don’t know. The banter in the barber shop, the books being discussed, the language exchanged between strangers and friends, and decorations around the venues are all quite foreign to me, but I don’t know if that is a sign of accuracy or just stereotyping. Is that Harlem, or just what I expect Harlem to be?

The optimist in me sees the nearly all black cast (I don’t think a white person has shown up yet, even in the background, but there have been some Hispanic cast members) and relatively high number of black writers and producers and hopes for the best.

I’m no expert, these are just my random thoughts and concerns while watching it.

Advertisements

Race

We’ve traveled through 19 states and countless cities now, and in some of those areas being white made us stand out. As I’m typing this I am at a home in a historically black neighborhood and we are the only white people I’ve seen in the surrounding blocks. I’m going to be honest during this post, even if I feel a little shame for my feelings.

There are times I felt uncomfortable biking or walking around certain neighborhoods. I have no logical reason to believe I was in any danger or that anyone wanted to harm me, quite to opposite really. But, when you are walking through a neighborhood and you stand out because of your race it can be somewhat unnerving. Particularly when the cultural norms are so different than what you are used to. I never grew up in a neighborhood where dozens of people hung out on the street throughout the day and night playing music. I’m not used to seeing my neighbors.

I don’t want to be nervous in places where I’m different. I’m feel shame when I recognize this feeling because I know it is irrational, but in a lot of ways society has reinforced these feelings. We’ve met several people on our bike ride who have warned us about going into non-white areas because “you better have a gun” or “some people will attack white people just for being white”. This goes directly against facts, but the fear can still plant seeds in your mind.

In fact, the only time we have ever been directly threatened or had people treat us poorly was a group of white people in North Dakota. Every other person we’ve encountered has been incredibly friendly, even when they are baffled by what we are doing. I recognize that two vegans travelling by bicycle with their dog and a solar system stereotypically falls firmly in the category “shit white people do”.

I want to get over the nervousness and the internalized knee-jerk reaction when I’m in an unfamiliar place. I realize I shouldn’t be naive, but in the United States there are very few places that are truly dangerous to us. Violent crime is super rare. I guess the best option is to keep going places that are new, expose myself to the true people and cultures of this country, and not beat myself up too badly. My first thought might be “uh oh, this place might be dangerous because I’m white”, but my second thought that occurs when my logic kicks in is “fuck that noise, this place is fine. Stop stereotyping. Everyone here is probably kind and friendly. Rarely does anyone want to hurt a stranger”. And, hopefully, it is the second thought that is more important.

Dog Fighting and Bacon

Human treatment of animals has been on my mind a lot lately, particularly how different cultures seem to have internal contradictions. Western culture tends to put a lot of stock in logic and reason, but when it comes to animals there is a bit of cultural relativism. We see what we do as moral and others as immoral, even when the two things are very similar. If you ask someone from the United States what they think of eating dog they will probably act disgusted and even claim that eating dogs is “wrong” or “immoral”, but we eat pig all the time. Not only is there cross-cultural views on what is right or wrong, there are also seeming contradictions within our society. Take dog-fighting, for example.

Most people think dog-fighting should be illegal. They see the act of raising animals simply so that they can fight, suffer, and die for human entertainment and profit to be deplorable. Human entertainment, at its core, is simply pleasure we achieve through the use of our eyes. Humans watch dogs fighting and the thrill of the fight and the potential for gaining money through gambling gives them a thrill, it gives them pleasure.

Many people see this as wrong, but at the same time eat bacon. Bacon, and generally all meat, is consumed because it gives the person eating it pleasure. It is pleasure derived from taste and the satisfaction from a full stomach. Bacon has no nutritional value that is necessary for survival, but people enjoy it. While some people may need animal protein for survival (I’m not sure how common that medical necessity really is) there are other sources that it can come from other than pigs.

If you are against dog-fighting and abusing pets, but support eating bacon then I can only come up with three reasons: This is a hypocritical stance, morality and ethics are relative to a particular society, or there is some sort of important difference between pleasure that comes from sight and pleasure that comes from taste with taste allowing you to perform acts of violence (or pay someone to) that sight doesn’t allow. If morality and ethics with regards to animals are relative to a particular society than we shouldn’t be using the state to enforce them, particularly at the federal level. This means that laws against dog fighting are unjustly targeting a particular sub-culture in the United States.

Personally, I think it is a hypocritical stance. If a dog shouldn’t be abused for pleasure or profit, than neither should pigs (and pigs in our society are treated terribly before being killed for human pleasure). If harm must be done for survival, if meat must be consumed, we should attempt to minimize that harm and only eat the amount of meat necessary and make sure it comes from sources that are raised in a way to minimize harm.

I think most people are fine with being hypocrites. Challenging the consumption of bacon is almost a sacrilegious act and is commonly defended with “but it tastes so good”. The argument is basically, I derive pleasure from it therefore it is okay. It is moral hedonism, which I don’t have a problem with if you aren’t harming. Though, if they saw me beating my dog with a bat and I said “but it feels so good to do it” I doubt they would shrug and say “okie dokie, as long as you get pleasure from it”.

Les Miserables

background

This weekend my partner and I went and saw Les Miserables while visiting some of my family down in San Diego. Like most people, her and I left with tear stained cheeks and red eyes. There really wasn’t a dry eye in the house and I really, really enjoyed it.

I highly recommend it but it is always a unique experience as a man to cry in public. There are certain things that I think provoke the waterworks for individuals but for me it is almost always military/war related. I think the combination of losing friends in combat and my strong pro-peace stance makes these issues particularly moving. It was just impossible for me not to reflect on my friends when Marius reflects on the death of all his friends I just lost it. Especially after the XFF where Anastasia talked about the social stigma against men showing emotions.

The whole performance was incredible to me. I didn’t really know anything about Les Miserables before arriving and certainly didn’t know any of the songs but really enjoyed it. Samantha Barks as Eponine particularly stood out to me as a non-musical expert. Anyway… Les Mis is highly recommended and I’m hoping to read the novel some time this year.